Mike Bacon: Looking forward to fitting tribute to brilliant Paul Mariner

Paul Mariner steers an effort goalbound. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

Paul Mariner steers an effort goal bound in the FA Cup final at Wembley in May 1978, which Town won 1-0 over Arsenal. - Credit: Archant

It's more than fitting that this weekend's League One clash between Town and Plymouth Argyle should be deemed 'Paul Mariner Day'... a star who played for both clubs.

What a day it promises to be, what a player Mariner was.

For those of us lucky enough to have witnessed all those super Ipswich teams throughout the Bobby Robson era, never realising then how lucky we were, Mariner was an integral part of it all.

He was signed in 1976, just as Robson was starting to build a team he felt could challenge more, not just the top teams in England, but possibly Europe. Town were a regular in the UEFA Cup season after season at the time.

A strong, skilful leader of a front line, Mariner came to Portman Road, from Plymouth, and to be honest I think it is fair to say although many of us had heard of him, many more were curious as to what he would bring to the Portman Road party.

We need not have worried.

Trevor Whymark helps Mariner celebrate his first strike for the Blues, as Ipswich Town beat West Bro

Trevor Whymark, left, helps Paul Mariner celebrate his first goal for the Blues, as Ipswich Town beat West Bromwich Albion 7-0 in 1976 - Credit: Archant

As per usual Robson's intuition proved right. Just as it had when he had brought Allan Hunter to the club years before, and then masterminded the signings of the two Dutchmen, Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen years later.

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For those younger readers, mainly under-40s who likely never saw much, if any of Mariner, I suppose the one striker I would compare him with today, is Harry Kane.

Ipswich Town's John Wark and Paul Mariner kiss the UEFA Cup in 1981

Ipswich Town's John Wark and Paul Mariner kiss the UEFA Cup in 1981 after victory over AZ 67 Alkmaar. - Credit: Archant

Like Kane, Mariner was strong and moved across the pitch with ease. Yes, he was a target man, but he was much more than that and, although I don't remember Mariner taking as many free-kicks and penalties as Kane does, he did do what Kane does now, scored freely with feet and head. And he was a leader on the pitch.

I'm too young to have seen Ray Crawford or Ted Phillips in their Blues pomp, two great Town legends, so I can only say that Mariner was, and still is, the best No.9 I've ever seen in an Ipswich Town shirt.

It is going to take someone exceptional to change my mind in the years ahead.

Mariner typified our team back then. Not just skilful, but strong and brave. Confident and a match for any centre half in Division One.

Roger Osborne, left, and Paul Mariner celebrate Town's FA Cup win in 1978. Picture: ARCHANT

Roger Osborne, left, and Paul Mariner celebrate Town's FA Cup win in 1978. - Credit: Archant

If I had just one request of an addition or two to today's Ipswich Town squad, it would be of a couple of big, strong players. I would say like Mariner, but that's rather being over-hopeful. Still, that debate is for another time.

So, while Saturday is very much about Kieran McKenna's team of today and their push for the play-offs against a very in-form Plymouth side, it's also nice that we will be remembering Paul Mariner, t'boot.

I think my favourite-ever goal of Mariner's was a stunning header against Liverpool at the Churchman's End. He must have been 14 yards out and he duly thumped it into the net off the side of his head. I think we won 1-0 that day.

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Members of the Ipswich Town team joined the band Gillan on stage in 1982 at the Gaumont. Players included Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil and Paul Cooper. Mariner was a big rock fan. - Credit: Archant

It was at a time when Town, Liverpool, Villa and Forest were the big boys of the First Division, Town going toe-to-toe with all of them.

Mariner was also a joker, a character in an Ipswich Town dressing room full of characters.

He helped bring some of the happiest days of my Ipswich Town-supporting life to me and many thousands of Blues' fans, and it will be lovely to think of him this weekend.

His death last year at the age of just 68 was so very sad.

So, on Saturday we have the chance to remember Paul Mariner one more time. And I hope the North Stand, indeed the whole of Portman Road, can sing up the wonderful song we used to sing whenever Mariner hit the back of the net.

'We'd walk a million miles for one of your goals...... PAUL MARINER'

If I heard that on Saturday, I'll tell you, it would bring a tear to my eye.